Oh, dear reader, if only that were true! Just because your skin doesn’t turn red and peeling doesn’t mean that trouble isn’t brewing beneath the surface. There are two types of ultraviolet (UV) light that have the greatest impact on skin — UVA and UVB. UVA rays cause skin aging; UVB rays are responsible for skin burning. If your skin is naturally melanin-rich, it may blunt the effects of UVB light, which has a short wavelength and only damages the outermost layer of skin. But UVA rays are colorblind, so they’re as much of a concern for those with darker skin tones as much they are for people with fairer complexions.
How UVA works
UVA rays have a long wavelength, which means they zip straight past the melanin at the very top of your skin and penetrate deep into the heart of the tissue where collagen and elastin live. Once there, it wreaks havoc on those cells. Collagen and elastin are the support structures of all skins; they’re what keep it firm, lifted, and smooth. When they break down due to the free radicals generated by UVA exposure, skin goes slack and starts to wrinkle. And that’s the same for everyone, no matter how much melanin you have in your cells.
Beyond its aesthetic implications, UVA radiation also has much deadlier repercussions. It mutates cellular DNA, which can lead to skin cancer. (Yes, darker skin tones can get skin cancer.) Plus, unlike UVB rays, UVA light can penetrate glass and cloud cover. So even if you’re sitting inside during a thunderstorm, if you’re by a window, you’re getting exposed to UVA.
How to protect yourself
You’ve heard it before, but we’ll say it again: Sunscreen every day, 365 days a year. Specifically, a mineral sunblock with an SPF of at least 30, like Dr. Dennis Gross All-Physical Lightweight Wrinkle Defense Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 30. (The choice between chemical and mineral sunscreen formulas is personal, but with studies showing the physiological effects of chemical screens, many dermatologists — including our founder, Dr. Dennis Gross — are recommending mineral SPFs to their patients.)
And there’s a second step you can take to bolster your skin’s defenses: a layer of vitamin C serum (such as Dr. Dennis Gross Vitamin C Lactic 15% Vitamin C Firm & Bright Serum) under your sunblock. Vitamin C, an uber-potent antioxidant, helps neutralize any free radicals that get past your SPF so vitamin C plays a key role in sun damage protection. And not only does it function as a skincare safety net, vitamin C also helps rebuild collagen that was damaged earlier (before you wised up and began your daily sunscreen regimen).